Cetaphil: Why the Popular Cleanser Isn’t Doing Your Skin Any Favors

Cetaphil probably has the best PR of any facial soap. Beauty magazines gush over it as a no-frills $8 must-have. Dermatologists love to recommend it as a mild and non-irritating facial cleanser for two reasons: it doesn’t contain fragrance and, more tellingly, because MDs have a big Pharma love affair with the manufacturer, Galderma, the offspring of Nestlé and L’Oréal, which also makes acne drugs like Differin.

And yet there’s nothing healthy about this face-washing prescription.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser contains just eight ingredients: water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

All but the water are chemically manufactured (let’s hope), and propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, and the three parabens have a seat on the dirty dozen, a list of cosmetic ingredients to avoid as potentially toxic.

One look at the label and you’ve got to go “Wait a minute! What?”says Spirit Demerson, who analyzes skin-care ingredients for Spirit Beauty Lounge, her online natural beauty store. “Cetaphil does not contain even one single beneficial ingredient and what it does contain is the equivalent of toxic sludge. Whether you think it’s keeping your skin healthy or not, it is absorbed into your bloodstream and research has proven almost all of the few ingredients in it are carcinogenic. I know it’s hard to imagine that washing your face can give you cancer but it’s worth consideration.”

The ingredients in this popular Gentle Skin Cleanser don’t support the name.

Julia March, a top NYC facialist, says that so many New Yorkers believe that Cetaphil is healthy, they tend ignore the ingredients completely. “Cetyl alcohol, an emollient used in many cosmetics, is essentially a wax,” says March. “Propylene glycol is a common humectant (meaning it brings moisture from the air to the skin), but it also enhances product and chemical penetration into the skin and blood stream. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a foaming agent, and skin and eye irritant, that disturbs the healthy lipid barrier of the skin, and parabens are a group of preservatives being phased out for potential health risks.”

Given that there’s actually nothing clean about this cleanser, it’s rather amazing that millions of women think their skin will freak out if they use anything else. “It may not irritate skin very much, but it probably won’t help it much either,” says Nicole Yih, Assistant Spa Director at the Mandarin Oriental New York. That’s because there’s nothing in Cetaphil that nurtures skin. No antioxidants that help fight free radical damage; not a dribble of omega-rich plant seed oils that fortify the skin barrier; and not a drop of skin-calming botanicals.

A cleanser that you use twice a day should be judged on what it gives your skin. Consider this your new cleanser criterion.

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  • Mandy A

    I use the BFF facial cleanser from Perfectly Posh, naturally-based, spa grade ingredients. No parabens, paraffins, sls, gluten, soy, or petroleum. Check it out… http://www.poshmandy.com

  • Mandy A

    Check out Perfectly Posh! http://www.poshmandy.com I use the BFF facial cleanser from Perfectly Posh, naturally-based, spa grade ingredients. No parabens, paraffins, sls, gluten, soy, or petroleum.

  • Kelli

    I agree about Origins. Terrible stuff, at least for my skin. Made my face puff up & turn bright red, almost looked like blisters. It was a terrible reaction to a gentle toner they carry.

  • Raven Jackson

    (SORRY THIS SOUNDS LIKE A COMMERCIAL BUT I LOVE SB PRODUCTS :-) I have used Sequoia Beauty for the last year and it is truly natures miracle. I had recently developed hyperpigmentation on my forehead (to many years of fun in the sun) and had to style my hair to cover it. I have always had normal skin and as I am into my late 30’s now my skin is dry. Laurels products are like heaven on earth. I have NO hyperpigmentation on my forehead (thanks to her Sun Damage Repair Serum) and my dryness is under control. Daily I use Hydrate and Renew Cream Cleanser and Transform Daily Moisturizer. I also use the Hydrate Night Cream/Mask at night before bed. I am going to include a quote from the SB website: http://www.sequoiabeauty.com
    “The majority of SB’s ingredients are grown by local farmers and herbalists, or straight from Laurel’s garden. Every ingredient is straight from plants, all non-gmo”

  • Deb

    Beauty Counter has a wonderful cream cleanser available online. It is called Routine Clean. It has organic coconut oil that cleanses, moisturizes and softens. Witch hazel tones the skin while aloe hydrates. Infused with botanical extracts such as geranium, lavender and green tea. Many cleansers use sodium laural sulfate and often is contaminated with1-4 cancer causing chemicals. This cleanser uses a sugar-derived cleanser, decyl glucoside. Been using this for a few months and I am 64 but my skin looks 20 years younger!

  • Amy Black

    Try Radiantly You Dead Sea Face Wash – completely chemical free, affordable and works very well. I was a very happy customer and am now a distributor. PM me for samples or more info on this amazing product.

  • Babybumsoft

    You’re already using it! A small amount of baking soda with a bit of water rubbed under can last an entire day. I have sensitive skin and have to stop every few months or it irritates me slightly but absolutely no smell even when I sweat up a storm at the gym.

  • http://www.retireyoung.com.au/ Serena Star Leonard

    I will give it a try, do you find it stops the sweat or just the smell? I understand that it’s REALLY bad to use antiperspirant, but I do prefer to be dry!!

  • Jessie

    I made this homemade deodorant about a month ago and it is seriously amazing. I actually stopped using Dove’s clinical strength deodorant! One armpit was a little irritated for the first day or two after I made the switch but it’s been great ever since! http://sewgreen.blogspot.com/2010/08/make-yourself-un-stinky.html (Oh, and for the most part, this recipe does keep me dry, especially since I’ve been using it for about a month now. Of course if I’m exercising, I’m going to sweat but for everyday use, it’s great!!)

  • Garrick

    Rubbish article. Don’t pay any attention, Dr Lipman is NOT a dermatologist. The best dematologists recommend this.

  • Katie

    Oh pu-leeze! It is so annoying when people say things like “tons of toxins.” That’s such an exaggeration! In fact, Arbonne doesn’t claim to be natural! Go comb through Arbonne.com. You won’t find it anywhere! There’s 99% purity of botanical base, which is kept from rotting and is activated by 1% science. Arbonne uses the best of science to bring out the best of botanicals. The promise is pure, safe and beneficial. Even if a controversial ingredient is present that makes the product work well and get results, you can rest assured the chemistry, exposure to skin, penetration, etc, are just fine…SAFE and WORK, clinically proven to work. So all these people who’ve read info on random blogs who’ve got a lot of their information from out of date and agenda driven sources such as EWG, are misinformed!

  • https://www.facebook.com/ArbonneAngel Britney Jean Hying

    I use Arbonne as well. The Calm is really gentle.

  • Rebecca Harris

    Me too! Calm is great for sensitive skin.

  • Kate

    I’m a 20 year old that was using cetaphil for my skin for years. Arbonne is the answer!

  • http://chasesfreebies.com/ Chase

    Nothing. Your skin doesn’t need to be cleaned with anything but water. Why do people think they need to slather crap on their face? I suffered with cystic acne for 15 years until I stopped using anything on my face. Just water. Guess what? I haven’t had a cysts in two years.

  • FactJunkie

    Wow, what an incredibly misleading article. The “parabens” are on the dirty dozen? Sure… if you consume it orally on a regular basis. lol. They’re also found in most toothpaste, including “all natural” ones, and in pretty much anything your dentist or dental hygienist uses… the two alcohol’s are antibacterial agents. Propylene Glycol is not really toxic, although the closely related ethylene glycol is. But that’s irrelevant, since they are not the same thing. It’s also an organic compound, so while a “chemical” it’s pretty “natural”. You might as well go around freaking about the chemical known as “Dihydrogen Monoxide” (water). Lastly, sodium lauryl sulfate is essentially made up of salt, and coconut and palm oils. Some of the chemicals used to synthesize it can be harmful if consumed orally, but they are not present in the end product at all.

    I’m all for natural products when they work, but can we please stop resorting to inaccurate scare tactics to convince people to do it?

  • AP

    I switch between Rodan+Fields Reverse Facewash (it exfoliates) and Redefine Anti-Aging Facewash.

  • Megan

    Sodium Lauryl Sulfate strips the natural barrier of the skin making it more irritated and dehydrated. So, I do believe using this cleanser will cause irritation.

  • Cameron

    I use Beautycounter- over 1500 known and suspected toxins that will NEVER be in any of the products. The company is changing the face of beauty and skincare with it’s strict selection process and mission of total transparency in the products

  • john

    So can I sue our doctors for recommending Cetaphil?

  • Eillen E. M-García

    Aveeno is excellent. Totally recommend it

  • SkinMom

    WE??? Whose we? You must work for the cosmetics company – which explains your ignorant and inflammatory comments about EVERY other product. Ugh.

  • Ashley Tejada

    Beautycounter! They have a NEVERLIST of over 1500 ingredients that they will never use. We have two facial cleansers and a fantastic exfoliator. Learn more at https://ashleytejada.beautycounter.com/Home

  • Nona Ingrid Mattson

    I used Arbonne on my face for many years but now I use the “Cleanser” from It Works! It is 100% Natural and the best product that I have ever used….I am 53 and it also works great on my 15 year old sons skin!!!

  • Michele West Ceron

    arbonne is not pure! Look at the ingredients! Chock full of man made chemicals! So sick of hearing arbonne people say this. The first person who tried to peddle me this crap the first thing I did was look up the ingredients.

  • Michele West Ceron

    I am an esthetician, she is right, it does cut up the dermis! St Ives Apricot Scrub is the worst shit for your skin! All of us estys cringe when we hear clients use it, and then look at their horrible skin underneath the lamp!

  • Michele West Ceron

    I am an esthetician you do need to cleanse your face. Water doesnt cut it. But I tell my clients to only cleanse 1 x a day, not twice. My skin does a lot better when I cleanse once a day as opposed to when I used to cleanse twice a day. I recommend cleansing at night before bed and dont bother cleansing in the morning, just use a hydrator and a moisturizer in the morning

  • Michele West Ceron

    there is a reason why autoimmune diseases are FAR more common in women than in men—-because we use a ridculously higher amount of personal hygiene products than men do, these chemicals that we are putting on our skin all day everyday do produce cumulative affects in our bodies

  • Guest

    Ava Anderson Non Toxic is the way to go…their apricot seed kernels are in powder form – micro abrasion which is far far less than microbeads. The toxic microbeads are very important to avoid because they kill our sea life and if the fish don’t die first from the toxic plastic they just soak it up and we end up eating it instead.

  • Jennifer McInerney Barsamian

    Ava Anderson Non Toxic, organic natural botanicals – non GMO, safe and highly effective!! There are no plastic microbeads to kill sea life or worse – be eaten by the fish and if the fish don’t die…we end up eating the fish full of plastic – yuck!!! Ava uses apricot seed kernels ground to a powder form – far less abrasive on the skin than microbeads and fully biodegradable!!